Review: Rocknrolla

Review: Rocknrolla

In the 1990's filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino invented The Cinema of Cool, a combination of exploitation films' giddiness over the lives of sordid characters and the ever more self-referential nature of pop culture. The concept reimagined the crime genre, breathing more life into it than it had seen since the invention of Noir. In the early 00's, Cinema of Cool got something of a facelift with the films of Guy Ritchie. He brought the dreary, gritty, fast-talking streets of London to a genre that had originally basked in the ironic sunshine of bizarre Los Angeles. It's been a decade since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. So, has England's master of prosaic thugs retained his magic? Rocknrolla stars Gerard Butler as a thief everybody calls One Two. He and his buddy start off the film owing a limey criminal, Lenny, played by Tom Wilkinson a large sum of money thanks to a real estate scam gone wrong. To pay the debt, One Two helps a shady accountant played by Thandie Newton rip off her Russian mobster boss for a cool seven million euros. Too bad that money was supposed to go to Lenny for some governmental wheel-greasing. Also tied up in the mess is an expensive painting that changes hands numerous times throughout the film, bringing bad luck with it. These kinds of plots aren't automatically doomed to failure, they just require a careful hand at the script and behind the camera. Half of the Coen Brothers' ouvre uses the "object of doom" device, usually to stunning effect. Back when Guy Ritchie used it for Lock, Stock and Snatch it made for some pretty entertaining cinema. The reason those plots work is because they're occupied by interesting characters played by enjoyable actors. While I have nothing against Gerard Butler or Tom Wilkinson, neither of them are really built to play the roles they took for Rocknrolla. Compared to the cynical hucksterism of Jason Statham, Butler just doesn't match up and Wilkinson is only as good as his character's dialog. That's the case for the entire film. An actor can only do so much with a lackluster script. Guy Ritchie belongs to that unfortunate catagory of screenwriters who wish they were novelists. In Ritchie's case, were he to write a novel it would be overblown and hackneyed. None of the characters in Rocknrolla are as colorful as those from Ritchie's previous crime films and the prose isn't nearly as clever as Ritchie thinks it is. As for Ritchie's direction, it suffers from flash fatigue. Sure, in 1999 that kind of slick cinematography and cheeky editing was worth the price of the ticket. Today, not so much, especially when the efforts are half-hearted to begin with. This time around, the slow motion walks and unusual closeups don't serve any narrative purpose. They're really just there because they look cool, like the colored lights on an episode of CSI. It seems pretty safe to say at this point that Guy Ritchie has lost his touch. Spare yourself two joyless hours of predictable cinema and skip Rocknrolla.